Thursday, June 5, 2008
Be Kind Rewind ***
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def
Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz
Paul Dinello, Sigourney Weaver
Michel Gondry was probably born in the Island of Misfit Toys.
Or maybe he just went to school there.
He has a unique view of a world populated by underdogs filled with problems they can't solve because of their impossibility to grasp reality by the horns and choose traditional solutions.
Whether they're having their memories erased or breaking into their crush's apartment, Gondry's characters will probably never face life like the rest of us do.
What's surprising about this behavior is that when it should result completely annoying and impossible to identify with, we end up actually understanding and even envying them.
Somehow everything that Gondry does and starts off sounding like the blowup of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, ends up having a childlike innocence to it that results absolutely refreshing.
"Be Kind Rewind" is no exception; set in Passaic, New Jersey (but looking more like a Cyndi Lauper video) it tells the story of Mike (Mos Def) a clerk who works in a declining VHS rental store owned by Mr. Fletcher (Glover).
Mike's best friend, Jerry (Black), spends his time hanging out at the, often empty, store, when he's not trying to destroy the power plant he lives next to.
When Mr. Fletcher gets notice that his store will be demolished unless he renovates it to keep up with city safety standards, he leaves on a mission to spy on a Blockbuster like chain of movie rentals and discover what makes them successful (no, DVD is not as obvious to him as to us) and leaves Mike in charge.
Following a failed attempt to sabotage the power plant, Jerry becomes magnetized and accidentally erases every tape in Mr. Fletcher's store.
When the store's most loyal customer, Miss Falewicz (Farrow), drops by to rent "Ghostbusters" the guys come up with a plan; they will make their own versions of every movie and rent those.
After recruiting a local woman (Diaz) and claiming that their tapes come from Sweden, which is what makes them special, they create "sweded" versions of every movie, from "Rush Hour 2" to "Driving Miss Daisy" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".
This unleashes Gondry's mad genius and has him come up with alternative ways to represent the films they're recreating, while he delivers an essay on progress, the importance of history (Mike is obsessed with Fats Waller) and a big hearted take on the intrusion of big corporations.
While Mos Def doesn't contribute nothing we hadn't seen before and Jack Black amps up his annoyance factor to the x level, the film's supporting cast is extraordinary.
Glover's innocence is made of the stuff we don't see much of nowadays and Farrow is magical.
In a movie so in love with the movies it's not by chance that Gondry hired Farrow, who after her ethereal performance in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" seems tailor made for stuff like this, when during the movie she says "our past belongs to us we can change it if we want" you will feel transported to the magical New Jersey where the film is set.
Gondry's directorial skills are more polished than ever which in his case means that things look very manufactured. And if there is one thing you wonder about the film's ideology is whether Gondry is trying to say that his sweded versions make justice to the originals or if he's "simply" encouraging in others the creative spirit that inspired him.
The thing about Gondry is that he possesses such a childlike innocence that you never know if he's inviting you to play or winking sarcastically.
If Frank Capra and Jan Svankmajer had a love child he would turn out like "Be Kind Rewind".